In July, the Trump administration announced the reduction of troop numbers in Germany. The administration’s decision was in response to what is seen as Germany’s underspending on defense. The relocation of 12,000 troops from Germany will reduce U.S. reliance on the country, particularly for non-NATO activities. Many of the troops will be shifted to Poland.
It was also decided that the headquarters of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) would relocate from Stuttgart. Following the decision, AFRICOM stated that it had launched its search for a new home.
Now, two South Carolina Republican senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, recommend that AFRICOM’s HQ be moved from Stuttgart to Charleston, SC. They sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper stating that Joint Base Charleston (JBC) is an ideal location for AFRICOM’s headquarters. Their proposal is likely to be the first among many as the military searches for a new home for the command’s headquarters.
Joint Base Charleston, “provides the existing infrastructure to meet […] operational needs while providing cost savings opportunities. One specific benefit is that JBC offers direct airlift and sealift to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, as well as road, and rail assets to provide a rapid response should immediate actions be required,” the senators wrote in the letter to Esper.
The Charleston, area “would offer the personnel assigned to AFRICOM headquarters and their dependents a lower cost of living with a diverse range of options for housing, educational opportunities, and spousal employment,” the letter added. Graham had presented a proposal for moving AFRICOM to Charleston earlier in 2011.
Another option could be the Charleston Naval Base. During the Cold War years, it was a busy and bustling location. The Naval Base is just minutes away from the Joint Base.
Although Graham and Scott said it would be ideal to set up the headquarters in Africa, they “acknowledge the logistic and strategic challenges associated with this relocation.”
A location in Africa is not an option due to political reasons. A permanent AFRICOM HQ in Africa is rejected by and is very unpopular with the continent’s countries. It is perceived as an exploitative move and an interference in their domestic affairs. Therefore, AFRICOM is focusing on possible locations in either Europe or the United States.
Africa is suffering from multiple wars and insurgencies, particularly in the Sahel. AFRICOM is responsible for combatting the increasing presence of al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists in the continent. Its role, particularly in training operations, has expanded in light of the continuing conflicts. While the U.S. military is refocusing its efforts on near-peer adversaries such as China and Russia, Africa is looking like an arena that will soon have the three superpowers vying for influence. Russia is set to open six bases on the continent while China is flooding the continent with cash and expanding its influence via predatory loans.
At the present time, the opportunities for AFRICOM to remain in Europe appear limited. Consolidating AFRICOM’s HQ with NATO’s in Belgium wouldn’t be ideal. Yet, Italy could be a potential location because of its strategic position. If the Pentagon decides to transfer AFRICOM’s assets to Italy, it would enjoy increased capabilities around Europe’s southeast, in the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East.
However, maintaining AFRICOM HQ in Europe will undoubtedly receive some blowback in Congress, since the financial benefits that the headquarters will provide to its future location will be significant. In 2013, the General Accountability Office (GAO) said that a move to the U.S. could save between $60 million and $70 million annually. AFRICOM’s potential local economic impact can range from $350 million to $450 million, the GAO report said.